Ender in Exile
by Orson Scott Card
377pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 6.5/10
Amazon Rating: 3.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.82/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.86/5

Though I am usually a rational sort of person (in a fluffy, out of touch with reality sort of way) I am also sometimes a bit of a sucker. One of the ways I’m sometimes a sucker is my habit of being loyal to authors and stories that have been good to me in the past even when they don’t necessarily deserve it any more. Thus I have a shelf full of post-1990 Robert Asprin, and thus I read something like Ender in Exile. Orson Scott Card is responsible for both my favorite standalone book (The Abyss) and two of the best sci-fi novels of the last quarter-century (Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead). More recently though, he is also responsible for the later, weaker books in the Alvin Maker series and the almost unreadable Shadow Puppets. Ender in Exile falls somewhere in between, good enough to read even if you are not the pathological completist that I am but not so great that the Ender universe would suffer if it were skipped.

Ender in Exile is a midquel that takes place between chapters 14 and 15 of the original Ender’s Game. Having played his game to its conclusion, Ender Wiggin now finds that he must deal with the consequences of his actions–both intentional and otherwise. The political and military powers that no longer need him view him only as a potential threat and rival, so Ender accepts a position as governor of an exocolony where time and distance will insulate him from Earth, and vice versa. Despite using the governorship as an excuse to leave the system Ender’s true interest is in trying to understand the Formicans, the race he previously called the Buggers and has spent his entire life being trained to fight.

But Ender’s drive to succeed means that even a job taken as an excuse has to be done right. So instead of taking the easy path and allowing the incompetent Admiral commanding his colony ship to usurp his role as governor, Ender engages in a different sort of war to protect his position and the colonists under his care. In doing so he meets the Toscanos, a pair of colonists fleeing their lives on Earth who are determined to insert themselves into the political process on Ender’s new home. But even if Ender can navigate all of the problems of being a stellar governor, they are still only distractions from his larger goal of getting through the aftermath of his war with the Formicans.


If that plot summary seems a bit confused, it is with good reason: Ender in Exile is a book that seems very confused about itself. The first half of the novel is the story of Ender’s trip on the colony ship and his fight with Admiral Morgan for control of the new colony. The next third is about Ender’s life on the colony, and a final segment briefly and off-handedly describes one of the most significant events in Ender’s multiple millennium-long personal narrative. If this seems somewhat unbalanced, that’s only because it is.

So, what is so important that it forces Card to deal with a critical topic in roughly fifty pages? The story of the Toscanos, a caricature of a mother and daughter who are into social climbing and internecine feuding. They almost feel like they were included as comic relief from Ender’s interminable brooding and introspection, but they never reach the point of actually being entertaining. Instead the pair just comes off as a convenient plot device that allows Ender to explore his feelings of guilt and anger about being used in Ender’s Game. Even worse, they are also exploited as a convenient device for Card to hammer on his favorite topic, the importance of the parent-child relationship. Though, based on how often Card’s characters tell us how important it is to have as many kids as possible, presumably bad parent-child relationships fall into the “we’ll make it up in volume” category.

Ender in Exile also continues Card’s repudiation of the original Ender’s Game that he started with the Shadow series. In Ender’s Shadow Card goes out of his way to make sure that his original premise–a special individual can be a great person, while children have all the potential of adults and should be given the same respect–is subverted by the idea that the really important child was not normal in any sense of the term and was only capable due to genetic engineering. Exile continues this pattern by letting us in on the secret that the other exceptional Wiggin children, Peter and Valentine, were only great because they were being subtly manipulated by their parents. Even Ender himself is infantilized to a degree that seems incompatible with his character in Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, or Xenocide. Card seems to be trying to add depth to the children, now teens, but instead only ends up damaging the work he created more than twenty years ago.

Despite all of these flaws, Exile is still a good book. Card retains his ability as a storyteller, and his voice kept me wanting to read on a page-by-page level even when the larger story seemed to wander–or, occasionally, was completely rudderless. Relationships have always been Card’s strong point, and the interaction between characters remains a reason to read. The only exception to this is when he tries to force his everybody-have-kids message into the picture, at which point things begin to get stilted. But I have come to accept this as part of the price of reading a Card story, much like reading Spider Robinson means accepting his evangelism of hippie culture. The story would usually be better off without it, but it is more rewarding to work around the problem than to get hung up on it.

Ender in Exile is not a strong addition to the Ender universe, but it does fill in some gaps in the timeline and Card’s ability to weave an engrossing tale makes it a rewarding, if occasionally annoying, read. 6.5/10

Wow, I feel special! Fantasy Cafe was nominated for the “Your Blog is Fabulous!” Award by both Tia from Fantasy Debut and John from Grasping for the Wind (who both run fabulous blogs themselves that everyone should visit regularly if they do not already) . Thanks so much, you two!

Now I am supposed to list five things I am obsessed with and cannot live without.

1. My fiance
2. Reading (I’m sure you’re all shocked by this turn of events)
3. Amazon.com
4. Flavored lattes
5. Analyzing everything

My five nominees are:

Adventures in Reading
Fantasy Book News and Reviews
Next Read
Racy Romance Reviews
The Wertzone

Moon Called
by Patricia Briggs
304pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 7.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.18/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.25/5

Moon Called is the first book in the popular Mercedes Thompson urban fantasy series by New York Times bestselling author Patricia Briggs. This book is followed by Blood Bound, Iron Kissed, and Bone Crossed (which was just released in hardcover last month). When completed, the series will contain at least seven books. Briggs is also writing the Alpha and Omega series set in the same world.

Mechanic Mercedes (Mercy) Thompson is a walker, meaning she can shapeshift into a coyote. This ability was inherited from her Native American father, who died before Mercy was born. Unsure of how to deal with a baby that turns into a coyote pup, Mercy’s mother had a werewolf pack take her in and raise her. Unlike the werewolves, vampires, and various fae that surround her, Mercy is the only one of her kind she knows about. Although walkers have an enhanced sense of smell and can move quickly when in coyote form, they lack the strength and pack mentality of the werewolf.

One day when Mercy is working on a car at her shop, a teenage werewolf comes to her seeking employment. Mercy hires Mac against her better judgment and quickly discovers her instincts were correct when he is attacked by a couple of other werewolves. After Mercy kills one of these wolves, she realizes she is in over her head and calls her neighbor Adam, alpha of the area’s werewolf pack. Mac reveals to Mercy and Mac that he had been used in experiments for a drug created specifically for subduing werewolves, and Adam takes Mac under his protection. Shortly thereafter, Adam’s home is attacked, leaving both him and his teenage daughter in danger. Mercy does her best to help them, putting her right in the middle of a mystery and leading to the necessity of confronting the past she left behind years ago.


This is only the second book I have read of the werewolf/vampire/fae variety that is in vogue at the moment. Although the cover frightened me, I was easily hooked once I started reading and even bought the next one when I was around the halfway point. I actually bought it at the bookstore instead of ordering it in spite of the fact that it had an even more embarrassingly degrading cover that made me feel like the clerk at Borders was probably laughing at me. (The first one is pretty bad, but the second one has Mercy’s bra hanging out and makes her look like a complete harlot, which she is not unless she undergoes some sort of drastic personality transplant in the next few books.)

The world was modern day but populated by various paranormal races, unknown to most humans. I very much enjoyed the development of the werewolves and pack politics, although most of this was conveyed as info dumps through Mercy’s thoughts as the narrator, which seemed rather clumsy since one would not expect someone who knows these facts so well to be explaining them to herself so often. At times, there does seem to be a lot of exposition but it does aid with understanding what is happening.

The various supernatural races are potentially dangerous instead of seeming like humans with unusual abilities. When Mercy visits the vampires, it is done hesitantly and with much trepidation. Even the werewolves, who often seem like nice guys, can be fearful to those they care about under the right circumstances. They’re not evil, but they do have that animal part of them.

I loved reading about Mercy as a character. She is strong and independent but without being mouthy or overly sarcastic. Instead of rushing into perilous situations, she analyzes the situation first and stays out of the way if she realizes she can’t do anything to help. This does not mean she never takes risks, but when she does they tend to be for the sake of helping those she cares about and it never seems like she is being reckless. Mercy is not all powerful and she knows it. Her viewpoint is fun to read (when its not bogged down with fae trivia) and there are some great little details about her, such as the logic that leads her to carry around a lamb necklace instead of a cross.

There is a love triangle with Mercy, her neighbor, and her old flame, but it is not excessive (and there is no sex in spite of what the covers may lead one to believe). I thought Briggs struck just the right balance of having a little bit of romantic tension without overdoing it and making me wish she would get on with the rest of the story. Mercy is very practical and real – of course she has feelings but she does not brood over the men in her life and they are not all she thinks about. She’s practical, straightforward and doesn’t play games, and I liked that about her. There are some werewolf dominance/possession issues she deals with since they have long lives and have become used to a patriarchal society after centuries, but she tends to think they need to learn some enlightenment about a woman’s place in society.

Other than some violent and dark occurrences, this novel is a very clean book. In addition to not containing sex, swearing is minimal and normally only alluded to instead of specified. Even when spelled out, the only swear I remember being specifically used is “damn.” Mercy attends church and is somewhat religious, although she is not a complete prude (she’ll undress in front of men when she needs to change to a coyote without a second thought).

Moon Called is a highly entertaining, quick read with lots of adventure and mystery, a hint of romance, and a great female lead. I’m now hooked and will also have to look into some of Patricia Briggs’s older novels.

7.5/10

Read Chapter One

Other Reviews:

Mar
07
2009

Watchmen
by Alan Moore
416pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.49/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.48/5

Watchmen is a graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. It won a Hugo Award and is heralded as one of Time Magazine‘s 100 best novels of any medium. Like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series (the only other graphic novels I have read other than a little bit of manga), Watchmen proved to me that graphic novels can be as literary and brilliant with as complex a plot and characterization as any novel – and even more so than many. It’s very impressive that a story containing so few words can contain so much detail and depth. Watchmen contains a mystery, character study, social commentary, and a love story, while challenging the traditional superhero comic archetypes.

The story takes place in an alternative mid-1980s in which costumed vigilantes formed the Crimebusters group and fought crime until this was outlawed by the Keene Act in 1977. Now most of the few former heroes who remain have retired from the business of saving the world, other than a couple who work for the government and Rorschach, who has a strong belief in his idea of justice and refuses to give up. The costumed heroes are ordinary people who have no superpowers with the exception of Dr. Manhattan, who gained godlike powers through an accident at the nuclear research laboratory he worked at. The U.S. government uses him to their advantage to keep Soviet Russia under control.

The novel throws readers right into the story with the investigation of the murder of one of the vigilantes, Edward Blake–also known as The Comedian. Once the detectives leave the scene of the crime, Rorschach does some poking around of his own and then proceeds to warn the other former Crimebusters that he believes any one of them could be next. Known for his general craziness and paranoia, the other vigilantes dismiss Rorschach’s warnings until one of them is attacked.


Watchmen is broken up into 12 chapters with each separated by an essay, novel excerpt, or newspaper clipping providing some further insight. The first chapter introduces the various characters as Rorschach visits them to inform them of the death of The Comedian. From there, the story moves forward but is interspersed with many flashbacks about the history of the various characters that fleshes out each of them with very vivid personalities.
  • Rorschach has a fanatical belief in right and wrong and perceives the world around him as very black and white. He’ll take any measures to make sure his concept of justice is carried out, regardless of means. Excerpts from his journal tells a lot about his worldview and how he thinks.
  • Dr. Manhattan is no longer fully human and is becoming more and more detached from humanity. What would you expect of a glowing blue guy who can manipulate matter and has no concept of linear time?
  • Nite Owl is a middle aged, overall quiet well-mannered nice guy who took over after the first Nite Owl retired. Although he’s retired, he has a room for all his dusty gadgets and airship. Although he’s the most clearly “good” of all the characters, he was still well done.
  • Silk Spectre II resents being pressured into becoming a hero by her mother, the first Silk Spectre, and being kept around by the military for the sole purpose of keeping Dr. Manhattan happy. (She is the one I felt had the least depth of all the characters even though she is present a lot and seems important, since she seems to exist mainly for interactions with the other characters. For instance, she often serves as a plot device to cause Dr. Manhattan to act. Much of the time she seems very angry and whiny, which is to be expected from someone harboring as much resentment as she does, but it does get annoying at times. However, I did enjoy her scenes with her mother and Nite Owl.)
  • Ozymandias is a well-known, wealthy businessman and the world’s most intelligent man. His personal hero is Alexander the Great.
  • The Comedian was obnoxious, arrogant, and ill-mannered, and even attempted raping the first Silk Spectre. Yet Rorschach muses that he’s the only one who really seems to get the joke that is life.

What I loved about the characters is that each had a clear motivation for their actions and never seemed out of character. Not only were we told that Ozymandias was intelligent but we were shown he was. Even the darker characters were not completely evil and showed glimmers of goodness and humanity.

Watchmen asks a lot of questions, some serious and some somewhat humorous. The most famous of course is “Who watches the watchmen?” but it also dwells on what type of person would decide to don a costume to fight crime and the impracticality of capes. Instead of the “heroes” being merely good people who want justice in the world, they tend to be mentally imbalanced or egotistical and flamboyant personalities. Are these really the types of people who should have power and be held up on a pedestal? Do the fair and right causes they take on justify the rough means they sometimes take to get there? Is enough good done by them to balance out the bad aspects of these flawed crimefighters?

Since the background of the characters and the important aspects of the story are slowly revealed, Watchmen makes more sense once you get to the end. For most of the novel, I enjoyed it but also found myself wondering what the big deal was. Once I got to the end, everything fit together beautifully and it’s one of those rare books that grew on me more and more after I was finished with it. Normally, the memory of a book fades over time and if I tend to feel differently about it later, I like it less than I did initially. This is one I could reread and probably come away with a lot more than the first reading.

One of my favorite aspects of the novel was the end. I do not want to give too much away but the ending was perfect and the revelation of the villain and his speech was such a great moment and a great twist on the stereotypical bad guy.

Watchmen is dark, cynical and amazing with excellent characters, a riveting plot, and some thoughtful themes. It’s a novel for the reread pile.

9/10

The Suvudu Free Book Library has the first book in 5 different series available for download. They have some books that sound pretty good available too:

  • Blood Engines by T.A. Pratt
  • His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
  • Settling Accounts: Return Engagements by Harry Turtledove
  • Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (really want to read this)
  • Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb (the first book in one of my favorite series)

To find out how I (and several other bloggers) would serve justice, head on over to the Watchmen Weekend Celebration at The Book Smugglers.

(Speaking of which, I cannot wait for the movie. I loved the graphic novel and will be reviewing it in the next 2 or 3 days.)